Meribel Backgammon Tournament


By Robert Wachtel

Continued from Meribel Backgammon part 1

It was only at 10:30 PM Friday night, after two days of entertainments, and then a generous cocktail party followed by a civilized two-hour dinner break, that the main Meribel backgammon tournament commenced. I was paired with Simon Pankvelashvili, a sympathetic Georgian (of the bordering-Russia, not southern-USA variety) whom I had met and made friends with the day before. The round began, but my opponent was nowhere to be found. The tournament director, Mike Main, tried calling him, but with no success. After half an hour or so, Mr. Main told me that I could begin receiving penalty points.

It is, of course, standard procedure to take advantage of this sort of situation. After all, it is the director, not you, who is imposing the punishment, and there is a good reason for it. The trains must run: if you allow people to be late for matches with no consequences it inconveniences everyone.

Memories from the Deauville Backgammon Championships

But I have some baggage. Back in the early nineties, I had the good fortune to do rather well in a big backgammon tournament which was held in Deauville, France. I made it all the way to the consolation final. The rounds had started at 2PM on each of the previous three days of the tournament; and, being a naive young logician, it seemed quite impossible to me that with only one round to be played on the final day, the action could possibly start earlier. I did some shopping in the nearby town of Trouville (practicing my French) and arrived at the tournament site a few minutes after 2. I was met by an excited group of friends, who sadly informed me that I had just been forfeited. It turned out that there had been a small flaw in my logic, for the last round had been scheduled for 1PM. From that day forward, I abandoned my rationalism for a more empirical approach, meaning that I actually inquired – either read the program, or asked the tournament director — rather than assumed when a match was going to take place. But I still remember how disappointed and angry I had been that my opponent would have been willing to win in such a cheap way.

Robert Wachtel in Meribel
The author enjoying the weather on the mountaintop. In the background is Simon Pankvelashvili
Photo credit: Andrea Wirth

And so, I told the director that I did not want the penalty points. I waited, and sometime close to midnight, Simon showed up. But he was in a bad way. Grimacing with pain at every breath, he explained that he had slipped on a patch of “black ice” on the sidewalk outside his hotel (he was not staying at La Chaudanne), fallen, and had probably broken a rib or two. Apparently, he did not have a cell phone. Immobilized by pain, he had been unable to get out of bed and make it to the tournament hall.

But here, at last, he was. The tournament staff found some analgesics. Simon swallowed the pills – and little by little gathered his focus. And then destroyed me. I was out of the tournament.

Meribel Backgammon Side Events

But there were lots more side events to keep the losers like me busy: doubles, speedgammon, jackpots, and another unique, riotous Meribel invention: the “gang tournament.” In this event, the original field (there were 24 volunteers for the madness) is divided into two consulting teams (of 12 players each) which play a three point match, with (as in a chouette) a captain having final say for each team over the choice of move. Once a team wins, all of the members of the opposing team are eliminated, and the winning team is split in two (by random draw).

Meribel gang tournament
Action from the first round of the gang tournament
Photo credit: Scarlett Serrero

The two new teams face off, and the mitosis of the winning teams proceeds until there is a single, individual winner. Held outside the main playing room, on a table adjoining the bar, the gang action did not start until 11PM on Saturday night, by which time the liquor had been flowing freely for hours. The “advice” given to the respective captains by their eleven teammates — all talking, pleading, and gesturing at once — would have been considered confusing within the Tower of Babel itself; but that, to be sure, was the fun of it all. Well into the night, even as the field was narrowed, you could still hear the shrieks, moans and laughter of the remaining participants echoing down the corridors of the hotel.

The Serreno family
Tournament runner-up and winner of gang event Michel Serrero with his daughter Scarlett
Photo credit: Scarlett Serrero

The finalists in the main tournament were two of backgammon’s favorite gentlemen: Chris Ternel, the Brit responsible for organizing the café leagues in Denmark when he lived there years ago; and Michel Serrero of France: a tough, veteran competitor whose lovely daughter Scarlett is equally formidable, both as a player and as an assistant director (as she was here) of many major European backgammon tournaments. After a difficult match in which Michel jumped to an early lead, Chris finally prevailed. Third and fourth places were taken by two of the world’s top players: Raj Jansari of Great Britain, and Mochy. And it was great to see another serious Japanese student of the game, Miki Suzuki, make her mark by winning the consolation tournament.

Meribel backgammon winner 2010
Meribel Backgammon Tournament 2010 winner, Chris Ternel
Photo credit: Andrea Wirth

The mid flight event, which attracted twenty entrants, was won by Genesis Naylor of France.
Michy won the super jackpot tourney, making a quite miraculous comeback to beat former Nordic champion Thomas Jespersen of Denmark in the final match.

Exhibiting not only backgammon but advanced social skills as well, Michel Serrero won the gang tournament. Sandra Peskin of Great Britain was second.

Exhibiting not only backgammon but advanced survival skills as well, Jose Rodriguez of Spain won the 48-player mountaintop tournament, besting Mochy in the frigid final.

Speedgammon winners: Franck Stepler (France), Chris Ternel (England), Simon Pankvelashvili (Georgia), Malcolm Robertson (Hong Kong), Henning Frick (Germany).

Rassoul Rasti of Switzerland was the winner of a raffle with a fine Genesis Naylor backgammon board as the prize.

Oh, and there was one more prize awarded. A “good sport” award, consisting of a nice bottle of Cotes du Rhone. I won that one. Yes, I may have deserved it this time, for sparing Simon the misery of a forfeiture; but my results have been so bad in the last few years that I have accumulated quite a collection of these pity prizes.

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